Research: Cognitive Distortion

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The concept of cognitive distortion has been used in victimological pseudoscience to assert that minor-attracted individuals are unusually prone to distorted thinking and rationalisations. The motivations behind this usage may include a desire to pathologise political dissent and categorise all minor-attracted people as in need of corrective therapy. See Cognitive distortion (pseudoscience).


A number of scientists have challenged the cognitive distortion hypothesis.

  • Gannon, T. A., & Polaschek, D. L. L. (2006). "Cognitive distortions in child molesters: A re-examination of key theories and research," Clinical Psychology Review, 26(8), 1000-1019.
    Gannon and Polaschek claim that "the popularity of the cognitive distortion hypothesis is due to factors other than its empirical validity."
  • Fog, A., “Paraphilias and Therapy,” Nordisk Sexologi, vol. 10, no. 4, pp. 236-242, 1992.
    "The rationale behind cognitive therapy is that the world view of the therapist is believed to be right and when the world view of the patient is different he is said to suffer from cognitive distortion".
  • Gannon, T.A. and Polaschek, D.L.L. (2005). "Do child molesters deliberately fake good on cognitive distortion questionnaires? An information processing-based investigation," Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment, 17(2), pp. 183-200.
    "Recently, researchers have begun to question the extent to which such studies actually support the cognitive distortion hypothesis (Gannon, in press; Gannon, Wright, Beech, & Williams, 2005). The basis of concern is the issue of clinical significance. Even when child molesters' total scores on cognitive distortion questionnaires are more offence-supportive than controls, closer examination reveals that most child molesters disagree with most cognitive distortion items in these questionnaires (e.g., Arkowitz & Vess, 2003; Marshall et al., 2003). Thus distorted cognition seems to be about disagreeing slightly less than non-child molesters, not about agreement. [...]
    The most common approach is to view disagreements not as evidence of what child molesters really think, but as a deliberate attempt to hide cognitive distortions from others (Kolton et al., 2001; Langevin, 1991). We refer to this type of explanation as the social desirability hypothesis. [...]
    Gannon (in press) used one such method to test both the cognitive distortion and social desirability hypotheses. In the first part of her studies, she used the standard questionnaire method: under conditions of confidentiality she asked child molesters to complete a pencil-and-paper cognitive distortion questionnaire. She found that child molesters generally disagreed with cognitive distortion items. In the second part of the experiment, she tested the social desirability hypothesis. She reasoned that if child molesters really did hold distorted cognitions that they were hiding because they were socially undesirable, they would "reveal" more agreement with the items when attached to an apparatus they believed to be a lie detector. Unexpectedly, child molesters in the pseudo lie-detector condition did not show greater cognitive distortion item agreement, despite being reasonably convinced that the veracity of their answers could be detected. This finding casts doubt on both hypotheses. [...]
    Contrary to the social desirability hypothesis, the untreated child molesters did not respond significantly faster than controls when they disagreed with the cognitive distortion sentences. Most surprising, however, was the finding challenging the treatment effect hypothesis: treated child molesters were significantly more rapid than both control groups in disagreeing with the cognitive distortion sentences, and their response times more closely resembled their processing speeds for beliefs requiring simplistic semantic judgments than other groups. These results do not appear to be consistent with the idea that treatment teaches these men to be more honest and self-reflective in responding. [...]
    As with many previous studies, our results did not support the cognitive distortion hypothesis, the view first articulated by Abel et al. (1984) that untreated child molesters will hold stable, distorted beliefs that support the sexual abuse of children. We found that untreated child molesters' endorsements of distorted beliefs could not be distinguished statistically from the responses of students or nonsexual offenders. [...]
    Although we acknowledge that more research is needed, we are puzzled by the pervasiveness of both the cognitive distortion hypothesis and its social desirability hypothesis given the lack of convincing scientific tests of either explanation."
  • Shadd, M. & Mann, R. (2006). "A fundamental attribution error? Rethinking cognitive distortions," Legal and Criminology Psychology, 11(2), 155-177.
    Shadd and Mann (2006) cast doubt on whether cognitive distortions lead to offending or reoffending. They also argue that the pathologization of cognitive distortions is inappropriate. In their view, excuses are a normal and healthy aspect of human behavior.
  • Howitt, D., (1995). "Paedophiles and Sexual Offences against Children", John Wiley and Sons.
    "There are dangers, of course, in promoting the view that all child abusers lie and distort. The obvious one is the problem of how to deal with an honest offender."